22 January 2012

Who's Afraid of Brooklyn Bridge Park?

Roman Polanski's new film Carnage starts with a fight between two 11-year-old boys, but it is the boys' parents behaviour that becomes increasingly childish as the film progresses. Carnage is a middle-class farce--a comedy of ill manners--adapted for the screen by Polanski with Yasmina Reza, based on the latter's play, and with strong performances from the four lead actors (Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly). Apart from a distant shot of then boys' fight in Brooklyn Bridge Park at the beginning and a similar shot at the end, the entire film takes place in the apartment of one set of parents, which makes sense given that the film was adapted by Polanski and Yasmina Reza from Reza's play Le Dieu du Carnage. Carnage is very funny but it's also very uncomfortable to watch in places as relations between the two couples rapidly deteriorate.

As Carnage opens, Penelope Longstreet (Foster) is typing an official document on her computer, aided by her husband Michael (Reilly) and by Nancy (Winslet) and Alan (Waltz) Cowan. The Cowans' son Zachary has, it seems, hit Ethan Longstreet with a stick, knocking out a couple of teeth. The parents think they are doing the right thing by talking things over among themselves rather than, say, issuing lawsuits, but they can't even agree on the right verbs to use in the document ("armed with a stick" vs "carrying a stick" is debated). Still, Penelope seems to think she is doing the Longstreets a favour by being so tolerant and forgiving. The couples don't have much in common. Nancy is an investment banker and her husband works in big pharma and fields a call on his BlackBerry about once every three minutes for the duration; Michael, meanwhile, owns some kind of hardware store and Penelope is an art-loving writer. The Cowans can't wait to leave but every time they try to do so (sometimes making it as far as the hallway), they end up starting--or being drawn into--another "discussion" with the Longstreets.

Tensions rise, apple and pear cobbler is consumed, accusations are made, expensive scotch is drunk and the BlackBerry is broken. And that's before we get to the projectile vomiting! At times, there seem to be temporary peace treaties; other times, the men ally together against the women. In any case, the sense of a proportionate reaction to a small fight between their sons is lost early in the film and the rest is taken up with four conflicting personalities, who can't help but desire to defeat and destroy one another. Carnage is reminiscent of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? in this respect.

This film could have been a fairly sharp, funny, sort of interesting perspective on the mores of modern, middle-class American, but the chemistry between the four main cast members really take Carnage up a notch. Waltz, as the big pharma director who has more important things to deal with than worry about whether his son was right to hit another kid (namely a nascent PR crisis), and Foster, who plays the sanctimonious mother who wants to be seen to be easy-going and tolerant but who is actually incredibly martyred and uptight, are the stand-outs. But Winslet, whose character really comes into her own after the scotch has been brought out, is also very funny.

No comments:

Post a Comment